“Don’t worry… I got the ship on sail.” Carly Flair laughs as she points to a large pirate ship cemented into the concrete, with hyperactive children climbing all over it. They are the underlings of the dreaded Captain Nobeard, and we are just new recruits in a long-lasting pirate war. We’ve taken refuge in the Skull Cave, tried to sneak past the dastardly children, and even sparred – or at least flailed enthusiastically – with foam swords. But now, our pirate coaches, Terence “Le Plant” Leclere and Carly Flair, ask for the last step in our training: our signature pirate move. We flourish, we pose, we utter catchphrases, all very pirate-y, all as overdone as we dare. With a belly laugh and a parting shot of puns, our instructors send us off to begin the adventure in earnest. Senor Pirate’s Final Plunder; Senor Pirate.
Señor Pirate’s Final Plunder was a sprawling 4 to 5 hour, multi-site immersive theater experience which ran for one day only in and around Bellflower, CA. Participants were grouped into “boats” of five people each and dropped into the latest film from The Director: an epic quest of piratical vengeance where the participants’ crew searched for the legendary Señor Pirate. Only he could turn the tide in the losing war against the dreaded Pirate Captain Nobeard and their crew of salty sea dogs.
Señor Pirate was the 13th HVRTING production positioned as a film rather than a real-world experience, and like its predecessors (Rebirth of the Rabbit, How to Summon Santa), it was built around a defined plot. Each of the four stations served as both “acts” in the story and lighthearted, varied experiences that included clambering around a pirate-themed playground, drinks and banter in a tiki bar, water-bikes out in the harbor, and a daring rescue attempt followed by a climactic battle with Nobeard’s crew.
What distinguishes Señor Pirate is that this time, HVRTING utterly dispensed with horror. While other shows and experiences have certainly had humor woven throughout, there were also plenty of elements intended to disturb and scare – or hurt – guests. Señor Pirate’s Final Plunder instead seeks to instill laughs without the screams, fun without the fear. The sharp change of pace felt like a vacation, both for participants and creators. Guests who, like myself, went in expecting the usual fare were instead thrown into high seas shenanigans, and my crew certainly enjoyed embracing the wackiness. But it was also HVRTING deliberately stepping outside its comfort zone and trying something new. Maybe it’s a sign of things to come, maybe it was a one-off to give the team a change of pace, or perhaps it’s The Director trying to lull fans into a false sense of security before diving right back into haunt territory.
While the motives behind the show may not be clear, its inspiration is hard to miss. Señor Pirate appears to take enough cues from Rogue Artists Ensemble’s Señor Plummer’s Final Fiesta to put it somewhere between a love letter and outright parody. Both lean into the tall-tale storytelling style with wacky characters, elaborate pirate costumes, and theatrical delivery with just a bit of ham. The cast of Señor Pirate have over-the-top names and stories – Pantyhose Pete being the possessed right hand of Swashingbuckling Sam was perhaps the silliest example – which fit the overall vibe well. But while Señor Plummer was a branching, fictionalized celebration of a historical character’s life, Señor Pirate was pure fiction following a single path. Still, the parallels are strong enough that it’s an obvious nod from one creator to another.
The show’s characters and costumes also deserve specific mention. While the locales and sets kept to HVRTING’s normal approach of minimal constructed elements to facilitate setup and tear-down, the cast members were well decked-out in elaborate pirate costumes ranging from dashing (Señor Pirate, played by Taylor Winters) to distressed (Sea Legs Lizabeth, played by Lacey Rae) to the oversized (a large coat on the small but menacing Nobeard); all the cast clearly had fun raiding closets and cabinets and I appreciated the result. Plus, having them so obviously attired served the dual purpose of making them easy to spot when we arrived at a new location and helping to foster and maintain immersion. The cast was also clearly having a blast with their over-the-top roles and appropriately campy delivery. I especially enjoyed Terence “The Plant” and Carly Flair’s (Terence Leclure and Karlie Blair) litany of groan-worthy pirate puns, Swashbuckling Sam’s banter with Pantyhose Pete (both played by Tristan Wells), the saucy, sauced Lady Grisabella (Cristen Brinkerhoff), Cap’n Punch’s (Jorge Lozano) enthusiastic double-agentry, and Sea Leg’s Lizabeth’s mournful tale.
There were also some novel elements that bear calling out. While the plot wasn’t too hard to guess, the activities and characters thrown our way were less easy to anticipate. Certainly, it was the first time I’d seen an immersive show use water-bikes as an integral part of a scene, and to their credit the logistics were all handled in advance of our arrival. This made for a pretty seamless transition between the scene’s initial exposition and heading out onto the water (after putting on lifejackets, of course), minimizing the disruption of flow and keeping us in the story. A mini-escape room in the fourth act was another fun little surprise, along with being made to literally walk the plank just before a dramatic plot twist turned the tide toward our final victory. It was also my first time in a multi-site experience, and while the gaps between stations took a little getting used to, it gave my group time to catch up and guess at what was coming next.
Perhaps the most succinct way to sum up Señor Pirate’s Final Plunder would be to call it an epic, whimsical pirate fantasy. HVRTING traded malice for merriment, giving participants an unexpectedly lighthearted day out with plenty of humor and fun for all ages. While I don’t expect they’ll abandon their bread and butter of extreme haunts, Señor Pirate’s Final Plunder raises the question of what other genres they’ll jump into down the line.
To attend an extreme HVRTING show, you must email The Director to make sure the experience is a good fit. Find more information on upcoming shows and out-of-show, personal experiences on HVRTING’s website, Facebook page, and Instagram. Check out our Event Guide for more extreme horror events throughout the year.
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